By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 15, 2009 ( – Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor faced further abortion questioning in a third day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she deflected pointed questions on her application of the constitutional right to life and said that President Obama did not ask her about her abortion views.

Sotomayor declined to answer a question from Sen. Tom Coburn on whether the viability of younger and younger unborn children with the help of technology had a bearing on the “right to privacy” undergirding Roe v. Wade. (Click here to read the Washington Post's transcript of Coburn's exchange with Sotomayor.)

“Let's say I'm 38 weeks pregnant and we discover a small spina bifida sack on the lower sacrum, the lower part of the back on my baby,” said Coburn.  “And I feel like I just can't handle a child with that. Would it be legal in this country to terminate that child's life?”

“I can't answer that in the abstract,” Sotomayor answered. “The question as it would it come before me wouldn't be in the way that you form it as a citizen, it would come to me as a judge.”  She insisted that judges “don't make policy choice in the court,” and repeatedly expressed her reliance on former decisions of the Supreme Court in examining particular questions.

Coburn also pressed Sotomayor on whether a state legislature has the right to define death, to which the judge repeatedly stated that it “depends on what they apply the definition to” and on “what the state is attempting to do.”

Coburn noted that modern technology confirms the presence of a child's heartbeat and brain waves within weeks of his or her conception, and objected to the “schizophrenic rule of the law” where death is defined as “the absence of those [vital signs], but we refuse to define life as the presence of those.”  However, the Republican senator said he would not press Sotomayor on the point, asking her only “to pay attention to it as you contemplate these big issues.”

Sotomayor told Sen. John Cornyn that no Obama administration officials had asked her about her position on abortion.  “I was asked no question by anyone including the president about my views on any specific legal issue,” she said.

Sotomayor also declined to directly answer a question from Democrat Sen. Arlen Spector on whether she considered Roe, which has been upheld in 38 cases, as “a super-duper precedent.”  Sotomayor simply replied that Roe constituted settled precedent.

In his opening remarks, Coburn apologized for the loud protests by pro-life demonstrators that have been scattered throughout the hearings.

“Anybody who values life like I do and is pro-life recognizes that the way you change minds is not yell at people,” said Coburn. “You love them.”

The hearings are expected to conclude tomorrow.